After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the U.S. pushed for the reunification of Germany. Negotiations with the Soviet Union led to an agreement based on a promise that U.S. Secretary of State James Baker (under the first President Bush) made to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Baker said that if the Soviets would allow the reunification of Germany, that NATO would not expand “one inch” further east.

This promise was crucial for the Soviet Union due to the horrific and damaging invasions of it by Western European nations. For example, during WWII, estimates are that the Soviet Union lost over 26 million people, about 13 percent of its 1939 population. The Soviet Union was understandably concerned about a possibly hostile military group coming closer to its border.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the U.S. then had unchallenged military and economic power. Given this situation, the U.S. political establishment acted recklessly and, as a result, caused incredible and unnecessary suffering and devastation in the Middle East and elsewhere.

In addition, the Washington establishment greatly increased the risk of a hot war with Russia. In violation of the promise made to the Soviets, President Bill Clinton pushed for the eastward expansion of NATO.

In 1996, George Kennan, architect of the U.S. policy towards the Soviet Union after WWII, warned that NATO’s expansion into former Soviet territories would be a “strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions.” In 1998, Thomas Friedman reported on Kennan’s reaction to Senate’s ratification of NATO’s eastward expansion. Kennan said: “I think it is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else.”

Unfortunately, Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama failed to heed Kennan’s wisdom and continued NATO’s expansion. Moreover, the U.S. and NATO have placed additional weapons systems and are planning on rotating thousands of additional troops in nations close to Russia’s borders. The excuse for these provocations is that Russia has militarily supported the Ukrainian opposition to the U.S.-supported coup that replaced a democratically elected president with far-right leaders mostly subservient to Western interests.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had strongly warned NATO about the importance of Georgia and Ukraine to Russia in 2008, and Russia isn’t likely to back down over this major security threat. If U.S. leaders continue on this confrontational path, Kennan’s worst fears may be realized.

The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.

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